So, I’m watching “NFL Live” – why wouldn’t I be, right? Nothing screams “NFL!” like late June - and during a segment, ESPN’s Michael Smith, Mike Golic and Cris Carter debated which quarterback under 30 is the best in the league.
Smith and Golic – not the Golic from “Saved by the Bell: The College Years”, as it turns out - both put our guy Aaron Rodgers at the top of the list. Carter went with Nasty Ben (aka, Ben Roethlisberger).
You didn’t really think Carter would give love to a Packer, now did you?
Anyways, that got me to thinking: I certainly love Rodgers and have a hard time believing I’d pick any other quarterback under 30 to guide my favorite team. But, being the football geek that I am, I had to investigate it just to make sure.
(Reminder, ladies: I’m single)
My first step: Figuring out the list of candidates.
I came up with seven possible names. Keep in mind, I was pretty inclusive with the first step:
Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Rodgers and Nasty Ben. Tony Romo just turned 30 in April, so that’s why he’s not on the list. And JaMarcus Russell just barely missed the cut – barely.
Second step: Whittling down the list.
Cutler, Schaub and Ryan were the first three to fall. Cutler lacks discipline and I have major doubts about his ability to be an actual leader. My “Second Coming of Jeff George” feeling about him hasn’t subsided yet.
Schaub is certainly capable of putting up massive numbers. Last season alone, he put up 4,770 yards, 29 touchdowns and just 15 picks. Of course, last season was also the first time he made it through an entire 16 games. He needs to be better at avoiding the injury bug to earn serious consideration.
Truth be told, I think Ryan is headed for elite status…but not quite yet. His numbers from last season aren’t great (2,916 yards, 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions in 14 games) and, sometimes, he still plays like it’s a Thursday night game at Virginia Tech. In other words, he needs to work on his decision-making. But he’s there as a leader already. He’s one of the main reasons the Falcons kept playing hard even after they were eliminated from the playoffs.
That, of course, left me with four options: Rivers, Manning, Rodgers and Nasty Ben.
Each of the four brought something to the table.
Over the past two seasons, the Chargers have become Rivers’ team. He’s certainly proven he’s worthy of such a title, throwing for over 8,000 yards with 62 touchdowns and just 20 interceptions in that time span. Rivers also has a swagger to his game that I like. He’s cocky, but it never clouds his on-field performance.
Manning’s a great fit for the running game/playaction passing system that the Giants run and has never buckled in the face of pressure that would wreck most of us. Seriously, can you imagine being Peyton’s little brother and playing in New York City? And, oh yeah – he’s got that Super Bowl ring, too, which never hurts your case.
Rodgers has put up two massive seasons and, like Manning, has never been broken by the massive amount of pressure he’s consistently been under. He’s also quieted the naysayers who questioned his toughness prior to taking over as starter. As his skill position players – like Jermichael Finley – continue to grow, he should only get better.
Nasty Ben is capable of putting up ridiculous numbers – I believe us Packers fans saw that firsthand last season – and has great improvisational skills. He’s also, hands down, the toughest quarterback in the league to tackle (there’s no way he plays at the 241 pounds he’s listed at). And if Manning’s one Super Bowl ring is impressive, what can you say about the two Nasty Ben has to his credit?
Again, though, I had to make the cuts.
The first name to go was Nasty Ben’s. The two rings are great, but with a nickname like that – and the allegations that brought on such a nickname – is there any way I could pick him? No.
Down to three. Easy enough, right?
Here’s why I didn’t pick Manning: His overall numbers. In five seasons as a full-time starter, he’s averaged roughly 3,500 yards passing, 24 touchdowns and 16 interceptions a season. Those numbers aren’t bad at all, nor is his completion rate (consistently hovers in the high 50-low 60 percent range), but they don’t necessarily scream “franchise quarterback.” Now I know there’s more to that status than mere numbers, but I wonder how Manning would fare in an offense that was passing-based.
You probably think you know what’s coming next. Guess again.
Here’s why I didn’t pick Rodgers: The postseason. I’m fully aware that he’s only been at the helm for two seasons and that one player – even a quarterback – can only do so much. But with the competition he’s up against here, I had to factor in that he’s 0-1 in the second season. If I was to go back and do this list again in a year or two, Rodgers very well could have some gaudy postseason victory numbers. I hope that’s the case. But, as of now, it isn’t. So, looking at it objectively, he can’t be my selection.
My choice would be Rivers.
He’s got the numbers (see: above) and has had success in the postseason (a 3-4 record, yes, but also an AFC Championship Game appearance). He’s faced his share of pressure – the offense became his only after it was LaDainian Tomlinson’s – and has put up his numbers without the help of a big-time wideout (Antonio Gates is a tight end, remember). Despite his cocky demeanor, he seems like a solid guy off-the-field, as he’s married with four kids. Not that that’s always stopped guys before, but as of now, he’s steered clear of any trouble. All in all, I’d feel the most comfortable handing over the keys to him.
That’s my take. What’s yours?